Sri Lanka is hoping to attract a whopping 1 million tourists, including from India, this year, a senior tourism official said on Wednesday, as the cash-strapped island tries to overcome its worst economic crisis in decades.
With more than 74,000 arrivals, India topped the list of tourists in Sri Lanka from January to July 2022, according to Sri Lanka's Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA). The UK, with 58,000 arrivals and Russia at 48,000 came in at the second and third spots on the list.
"We are expecting 1 million tourists this year," Priantha Fernando, chairman of SLTDA, told reporters on Wednesday. A revenue of USD 1.8 billion is expected if the current arrivals totalling 500,000 are to be doubled by the year-end, according to official estimates. A revenue of USD 1.8 billion is expected if the current arrivals totalling 500,000 are to be doubled by the year-end, according to official estimates.
The tourism sector is the major foreign exchange earner for the country. However, the onset of the pandemic has crippled this sector, and one of the major reasons for the country's current economic travails. "2018 was the best year for tourism with 2.3 million arrivals. With USD 4.3 billion in revenues, the tourism sector was placed the third largest foreign exchange earner that year behind expat remittances and the apparel export industry," Fernando said.
In 2019, the sector took a massive hit due to the Easter Sunday terror attack, while in the following two years of 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 spooked tourists, he explained. In 2021, Sri Lanka saw tourist footfalls of just 1,94,000.
A new tourism policy will be adopted to achieve a 2.5 million tourists arrivals target, the tourism ministry's top bureaucrat Chulananda Perera had said. On Tuesday, Sri Lanka's tourism minister Harin Fernando said the government will introduce five-year multiple entry tourist visas with a six-month stay for 35 countries, including India.
The decision was taken to boost "repeat tourism" in the country. Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.
The economic crisis has also created political unrest in the country. There have been street protests in Sri Lanka against the government since early April due to its mishandling of the economic crisis.